News

Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill

Published: 17 Nov 2020 09:30

Legislation to ensure safety of 2021 poll during pandemic.

New legislation has been published to make sure next year’s Scottish parliamentary election can take place fairly and safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The poll is expected to go ahead as planned on 6 May and the Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill has been drafted to provide powers, if needed, to conduct the election differently.

The Bill, developed in partnership with the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission, the Scottish Parliament and political parties, introduces key measures including:

  • earlier deadline for postal vote applications of 6 April rather than 20 April to give more time for these to be processed  given expected increase in demand
  • power for Ministers to allow polling to take place over more than one day if needed to support physical distancing at polling stations

Measures have also been included for the highly unlikely event that the election has to be deferred. The Bill therefore moves dissolution of parliament to 5 May rather than 25 March to ensure MSPs can pass emergency legislation to delay the election if required.

Minister for Parliamentary Business Graeme Dey said:

“We fully expect the Scottish Parliament election to go ahead as planned in May, but it is prudent and responsible to ensure we have planned for every eventuality so that the poll can be conducted safely and fairly during this pandemic.

“This Bill includes measures to help ensure that polling can go ahead and that voters will be able to vote safely in person in May as planned.

“The proposed legislation, which will be scrutinised by parliament, also properly prepares for contingencies in the highly unlikely event that this is not possible due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Importantly, should there be a need to defer the election because of COVID-19 during the pre-election period, the measures to delay dissolution will allow MSPs to return to parliament to take a vote on any such proposal through emergency legislation.”

Background

Read the draft Scottish General Election (Coronavirus) Bill https://beta.parliament.scot/bills/Scottish-General-Election-Coronavirus-Bill

Although some or all of the measures might not prove necessary, for them to be available primary legislation will be needed prior to the current date for dissolution of Parliament on 25 March 2021. Early commencement for the Bill will be pursued with a view to putting it into force from late January 2021.

Powers for Ministers to allow polling to take place over more than one day and to conduct the poll as an all-postal ballot if necessary (which would only happen in the highly unlikely event the election was deferred and it remained impossible to hold in-person voting) are subject to consultation with the Presiding Officer, the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Commission and the Chief Medical Officer.

By delaying the dissolution of parliament all MSPs and parliamentary staff will continue to be paid until 5 May 2021. In previous elections MSPs who were standing again and their parliamentary staff continued to receive their salaries through the pre-election period. Only those standing down were not paid after dissolution.

Measures to delay the dissolution of parliament have been put in place to ensure MSPs are able to return to parliament to vote on any emergency legislation to change the date of the election if required. It also allows for the parliament to continue to sit in the event of a postponement of the election.